Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Internship: A Review


*Author's Note: This review is for the Unrated Version.

I am someone who is not fond of technology.  Yes, I AM writing on a blog, and I have not missed the irony of being generally disdainful of technology while communicating on a technology-based media.  Still, on the whole I have an innate distrust of online things (I still think Twitter, like 3-D, is the Work of The Devil, and I have not accepted either 'friend' or 'text' as verbs).  The Internship, for whatever flaws it has, is really nothing more than a simple 'fish-out-of-water' comedy with two likeable leads, a nefarious villain, and a collection of 'oddballs' that show that a team united is better than individuals separate.

Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson) are lifelong friends who have been successful watch salesmen for many years.  However, they now find themselves unemployed due to this thing called 'the Internet'.  So, in the 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," mindset, Billy gets Nick to dump his unpleasant salesman and go to Google to be interns, where they can battle it out with a group a good twenty years younger than they are.  They are in what Nick calls a 'mental Hunger Games' against people who are old enough to be their children. 

In any case, here they are, these two men in their forties fighting for a few positions against those who are far more technologically versed than they.  They have to join a team, and as I find to be the case, this team is made up of the rejects.  There's Stuart (Dylan O'Brien), the bright but slightly antisocial fellow, there's Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael) the bright but high-strung person of vague Asian descent, and Neha (Teya Sircar), the nerd girl.  Their fearless leader: Lyle (Josh Brener), insecure nerd who wants to fit in but never does.  He also wants to win and have his group be the hires at Google.

Lyle's team has a big set of challenges on their hands.  First, the young people have a general contempt for Billy and Nick.  Second, they have to go up against the team of the snobbish Graham Hawtrey (Max Minghella), who is determined to win at all costs.  Third, the team faces the stern disapproval of Google executive Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi), who appears to have contempt for our elder statesmen.  As they go through various challenges the kids learn that the old guys have some things they need (particularly, the personal touch) and the boys learn that sometimes, one has to follow their dreams, even if it means having to learn the difference between being online and being "on the line".

I think The Internship is a film that is trying too hard by throwing in one cliché after another.  It isn't that there isn't a good idea within the film's premise of a couple of men trying to adjust to the new high-tech based industry.  We can even accept that the younger characters will be changed by the wisdom of their elders, and that the villain will delight in his villainy.  Everything in The Internship goes according to a straightforward screenwriting template (by Jared Stern and Vaughn, with Vaughn taking story credit).  In other circumstances, I might have forgiven all this and gone along with it all. 

There were certain things that were amusing (such as when our duo appears unaware how online interviews work, or when Billy kept referring to it as 'on the line').  However, it is the fact that the screenplay and director Shawn Levy could never keep the balance between making the leads completely clueless and knowing what is going on.  The best example of this is when Nick and Billy refer to being in a version of The Hunger Games but not be aware of the X-Men.  We also get a strange inconsistency when they know how to get online, but not how to pronounce it, how to get on Google but not apparently how to use it.  It's one thing to make the leads clueless about what kids know, but another to make them selectively clueless.

This inconsistency seeps to the younger set too; when Billy tells Stuart, "I'm your Bill Holden in Stalag 17", he responds, "I really don't get that reference."  However, when Billy is giving an inspirational speech Stuart stops him and asks if he is talking about Flashdance.   Those types of things, where they know certain things but not others, is typical of the dissonance within The Internship, a film that did indeed show the funniest parts in the trailer.      

However, the film's saving grace (if it can be that) is in its performances, where the cast knew at least the characters they were playing and appeared to generally have fun with the idea that it wasn't going to be a high-mark in their careers.   Of particular note are Sircar and particularly O'Brien, who did the best they could with substandard material.  I spent a good amount of time trying to understand why O'Brien looked so familiar to me, and it finally came to me: he is one of the stars of the Teen Wolf television series.  It is nice to see someone play a different character from what he's best known as, as Stuart was cynical and aloof while Stiles is more bumbling and good-natured.  Minghella was also having a hoot playing the evil Graham, using his British accent to full Benedict Cumberbatch effect (sounding as villainous as possible).  Wilson and Vaughn still have great rapport onscreen, but it's just a shame they couldn't do something better.

Sadly, Rose Byrne was wasted as Dana, Nick's love interest in a subplot both familiar and boring. 

I think that The Internship failed, not because of its association with Google (though a strong case can be made that this was a promotional film...I was unaware Google had a Help Line, which I don't think they actually DO have, but there it is).  I think it failed because the screenplay never rose above the stereotypical: the situations, the characters, even the plot.  It didn't even bother answering the questions it asked: Graham wanted to win at all costs, so given that Nick & Billy's team had these two inept bumblers why did he become so focused on them?  Why didn't the other members of his team step in or were they just as cruel as he was? 

Ultimately, I am far more generous than I should be with The Internship for a few reasons.  Vaughn and Wilson work well together.  There were a few good laughs buried within the film.  Other than that, I think I'm being far too kind.

I guess I am in a really generous mood, or accepted that The Internship is a really stupid movie and it didn't try to be anything out than that, with clichéd situations, characters, and plot points.  By no means bright, The Internship is not great art, great entertainment, and certainly nowhere near a great film.  Then again, given that my professors HATE both Google and Wikipedia (or as I call it, the Lazy Person's Guide to Knowledge), maybe I feel like rebelling against them...

One final note: the Unrated Version has a more explicit visit to the strip club which like The Internship itself was hit and miss: some parts good, some parts bad (but I bet many parts were fake).


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